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Your daughter’s first visit to the gynecologist is a rite of passage for both of you. Your baby girl is growing up! “The first experience can shape her feelings about GYN care for the rest of her life,” says Lauren Barlog, MD, assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. “The focus of the visit should be to help her understand and feel empowered about her own body.” Here’s what you need to know to make your daughter’s first visit a good one:
WHEN SHOULD SHE GO?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that girls have their first appointment between ages 13 and 15. But you know your daughter best, so it may need to be sooner. “Ideally, you want to have the first visit before she’s become sexually active,” says Barlog. There are other reasons to go, too, like heavy bleeding or bad period cramps, or if she simply wants to know what’s “normal” when it comes to things like breasts and pubic hair.
SHOULD SHE SEE AN OB-GYN?
It’s fine for your daughter to see her pediatrician if he or she is versed in adolescent medicine. But a GYN (who specializes in female reproductive issues, while an OB-GYN also delivers babies) is likely a better choice. “You want her to see the person who has conversations every day with teens about sensitive topics such as STDs and birth control,” says Lori Adriance, DO, OB-GYN, at Cooper University Health Care in Camden. “The more comfortable the doctor is with these subjects, the more comfortable the patient will be.” Ask her doctor for referrals, then call to confirm the provider regularly sees teen patients.
IS IT OKAY TO TAKE HER TO MY GYN?
It might be, but don’t assume your daughter has the same care preferences or wants to go to the same doctor as you. Some girls are more comfortable with a female physician, while others prefer a male. Would she feel more relaxed with a young doctor or an older one? Talk to her before making an appointment.
WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT?
“A big purpose of the first visit is educational,” says Paula Bruckler, DO, OB-GYN at Cooper University Healthcare in Camden. “We want to create a rapport so girls know we’re here when they need us, no matter what.” The doctor will take a medical history and ask specifics such as when her
first period occurred and the date of her most recent one. He or she will determine whether or not a pelvic exam or other tests are necessary. Generally, most girls don’t need a pap test, which screens for precancerous changes in the cervix, until age 21.
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE HER?
Explain it’s something all women need to do to stay healthy, and talk to her about what to expect: a general physical, breast exam and possibly a pelvic exam. Use the proper terminology to make it less scary. Explain that a pelvic includes a visual exam of the external genitals and a manual exam with the doctor’s gloved hand. If she needs a pap exam, the doctor will use an instrument called a speculum to look inside the vagina and cervix. Encourage her to speak up if she’s uncomfortable at any point. “Remind your daughter that even though she’s the patient, she’s always in charge,” says Adriance.
CAN I STAY IN THE ROOM WITH HER?
At some point, your teen’s doctor will likely ask you to step out of the room so she can speak privately with her. Don’t take it personally. Your daughter needs space to ask questions and talk about things she might feel self-conscious about discussing in front of you. Or she may decide to have you remain in the room with her. The goal is to always give her information and control over her own body, says Bruckler.
WILL THE GYNECOLOGIST TALK ABOUT BIRTH CONTROL?
Some methods of birth control, such as the pill, may be prescribed if she’s having problems such as heavy periods, bad cramps or acne. Hopefully, you’ve already established an open line of communication and your child feels comfortable talking to you about sex, STDs and body image. But if not, now’s the time—and her OB-GYN can help the discussion happen. Says Barlog: “This is an opportunity to have conversations so girls feel empowered about their bodies.”
Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.